Bob and Dwayne - Astronauts
Bob and Dwayne - Astronauts!
When the war on terrorism finally exploded to a close in 2013 there was
a general lack of able-bodied men and this was how Bob came to get the
job as an astronaut. Some of the other astronauts resented Bob. They
felt that he wasn't up to scratch. But as the President said, it was
time for everyone to pull together. Even those who were falling
Bob quite liked being an astronaut. He particularly liked the moon
boots and spacesuit . In his quiet moments alone he would nip down to
the anti-gravity chamber and put them on. He would insert a CD and
flick the switch. Then he would twirl weightless and gorgeous. He would
let the moon boots and spacesuit slip off him. He imagined he was Jane
Fonda in the opening sequence of Barbarella.
In fact Bob was nothing like Jane Fonda. He was short-sighted and
flatfooted. He was 32 and had never been loved. Before being an
astronaut he had worked at a drive-in movie theatre. He had never
expected much of life because life had never expected much of him. He
didn't even expect much of being an astronaut. In 2008 NASA had been
relocated to a small country house in Rutland, England. Money was
tight. Times had changed. Space travel was a thing of the past. So when
that Tuesday Dwayne said they had a mission Bob was more than a little
"What kind of mission?" Bob said.
"You know, dude," said Dwayne. He made a engine sound in his throat
and fired his left fist towards the ceiling. "To space."
"I didn't think we had a rocket," said Bob.
"We got one this morning," said Dwayne. "From the French. Pretty neat,
"Yeah," said Bob, "neat."
Bob wasn't keen on Dwayne's personality. Dwayne was old-school. He was
always doing press ups or reading about physics or geometry. He was the
all American boy. He made Bob feel like a sloth. In general
conversation Bob was always keen to put Dwayne down but that might have
been because secretly Bob wished he had a little more of Dwayne's
"The President wants to see us now," said Dwayne. "To give us our
"Now?" said Bob. He looked at his watch. It was nearly 11. It was
nearly time for his snack.
"Yes," said Dwayne, "now."
Bob sighed and then put his hands on his knees and pushed himself up.
"Ok," he said "Let me at him. You lead. I'll follow."
Dwayne folded his arms and scowled. "Man, this is the President of the
United States of America."
"Yeah?" said Bob.
"Well, ain't you gunna change out of your funking pyjamas?"
Bob shook his head and thought being an astronaut wasn't all it had
cracked up to be.
NASA occupied the first floor of the country house, the CIA the second,
and the President the third. In the second decade of the 21st century
America had down-sized slightly. In fact in the last census there had
been only 56 American men and one American women. The President was
fairly sensitive about the issue and held a census every week. One of
the questions in the census was about political affiliation. The
following year there was due to be an election. The President wanted to
know where he stood. He didn't want any mess ups like the one that had
happened in Florida.
As they reached the President's door Dwayne put a hand flat on Bob's
chest. "You let me do the talking, ok?"
Bob nodded his head. Anything to keep Dwayne happy.
"Once inside the Oval Office I don't want any of your nonsense."
"Ok," said Bob. "But the office isn't oval. If anything it's square,
maybe rectangular at a push."
"That's exactly what I'm talking about," said Dwayne. "You've no
respect for funking tradition. Just think land of the free, home of the
brave and say nothing."
"Ok," said Bob. "If that's what you want."
"It's what I want," said Dwayne. "Don't let me down. Don't let the
country down." He knocked on the door and they went inside.
The president was sitting behind a large oak desk. On one side of him
was a red telephone on the other a black. As always Bob was reminded of
the comic books he read as a youth. The red phone looked like the
Batphone. He wondered if Batman had been around they would all have
gotten into this mess.
"Gentlemen," said the President. He made his fingers into a pyramid
and looked up.
"Sir," said Dwayne.
Bob remembering Dwayne's advice merely nodded politely.
"I thank you for coming so swiftly," said the President, "in what may
come to be seen as the our darkest hour."
"It's our duty," said Dwayne. "We are here to serve."
Bob looked at the clock above the President's head. It was now past
the time of his eleven o'clock snack. He wondered when the President
would mention the rocket.
"This morning at six hundred hours," said the President in the tone he
reserved for particularly important news conferences, "our scientists
spied what can only be described as an alien spacecraft in orbit around
the Earth. It may turn out that they are friendly. It may turn out that
they are hostile. But these are dangerous times. The terrorist threat
is still&;#8230;" The President paused and looked for his next
words. ".. a threat. We have lived through years of war. We have
suffered. We have endured. We have emerged victorious. We do not want
to take any more chances." The President came to a stop again.
"Sir?" said Dwayne.
"We want you to seek out this spacecraft and shoot it down. We believe
it may harbour weapons of mass destruction."
"Funkin' A," said Dwayne. He punched the air. Then he remembered where
he was. "Sorry sir."
The President help up one of his hands in admonition and then returned
it to its triangle.
"We must act quickly. Launch time is fifteen hundred hours minus one.
The nation is depending upon you. In this we must be successful. We
haven't come this far to throw it all away for bean soup now."
Dwayne clicked his heels together and saluted sharply. "Yes
Bob scratched his head and looked directly at the President. "Fifteen
hundred hours minus one, is that two o'clock or one minute to
Dwayne stiffened and turned towards Bob but Bob was saved from any
retribution by the ringing of the phone, the red one. The President
snatched up the receiver and said a few words into it. Then he put his
hand over the receiver and looked towards the two astronauts.
"It's Britney," he said.
He didn't need to say any more. Bob and Dwayne left.
Britney Speares was the last remaining American woman and as such the
future of the American nation was in her hands. However, in the decline
of her pop stardom Britney had taken on the cause of proto-feminism.
She didn't want to have children. She wasn't going to have them for
As the last American woman she felt now was a time more than any other
time when the feminist cause needed to be vaunted. She said that women
had been treated so badly in the past. When asked what would happen to
American feminism in the future if she didn't have children she
demurred. She said it was the woman's prerogative.
Britney was being held by the CIA on the second floor of the country
house in Rutland. As the CIA consisted of only one man security wasn't
that tight. She could have escaped but she didn't want to. She quite
enjoyed being the centre of attention. It was something she had got
used to in her years as a pop star.
Bob stood in the corridor of the second floor and waited until David
Duchovny, head and sole agent of the CIA nipped off to the toilet. Then
he slipped into Britney's room. Contact with Britney was strictly
forbidden and therefore such precautions were necessary.
As Bob entered the room Britney looked up.
"Oooops you did it again," she said.
Bob laughed. This was their private joke. He had Britney got along
pretty well although it was all a big secret.
"I hear you're off to save the planet," said Britney.
Bob shrugged. "That or blow some more shit up."
"That's what saving the planet is," said Britney.
"I guess," said Bob although he wasn't that sure about it. He didn't
think Britney was that sure either. "I just came to say goodbye."
"I'll miss you," said Britney. "You're about the only one who's not
always telling me I should have babies."
"Well," said Bob, "you've got to make your own mind up about things,
Britney nodded and then she giggled. She only ever giggled in front of
Bob. She felt she could be herself with him. He wasn't like all the
"So it's going to be just you and Dwayne in that rocket?" said
Bob felt himself going red. It was the way Britney said Dwayne. "Yeah,
"You wish," said Britney.
"What?" said Bob.
"You like him, don't you?"
Bob shook his head. "He's so straight and so Mr Rocketman. I should
"Things happen when men are locked up together," said Britney. "I've
read about it."
"We're going to nuke an alien spacecraft," said Bob. "It's not like
"You'll see," said Britney. "Call it a woman's intuition. Anyway, I'm
glad you came I got you a present."
"Really?" said Bob.
"I hope they're ok."
Britney stood up and went over to a large chest of drawers. She bent
and pulled open the top drawer and when she turned again she was
holding a pair of glasses.
"I don't know if they'll be the right prescription."
"Where did you get them?"
"Don't ask, just try them on."
Bob took the glasses and slipped the arms over his ears. He twisted
his head to the left and then to the right. He held his hand up in
front of his eyes. Then he gave a little jump.
"There're perfect," he said. "I can really see."
"You're a true astronaut now," said Britney.
"Do you think so?"
Bob flushed again. But this time it wasn't with embarrassment it was
with pleasure. "You're a star," he said.
"Well," said Britney, "I used to be but not any more. Those days have
Bob and Dwayne were standing in front of the rocket.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" said Dwayne.
"Is that it?" said Bob. "It looks like something out of A Grand Day
"What?" said Dwayne.
"A Grand Day Out," said Bob. "It's a British claymation film about two
characters called Wallace and Gromit. They build a rocket and go to the
moon. It's a great film. It won an Oscar."
"Funking British," said Dwayne. "I'm warning you. Don't mention them
in my presence."
Bob looked at the rocket again. He was going on a dangerous mission.
He decided it was time he stood up for himself. And besides he felt
more confident now he had his glasses and he could see.
"You should show some respect for the British. They've given us a
"We saved their fannies more like. Anyway, we're not staying here.
When Britney sees sense and we've got a few more little Americans we're
Dwayne stood more erect. "Back to America."
Bob shook his head.
"What?" said Dwayne. "What?"
"Dwayne," said Bob. For once he found it in him to speak tenderly.
"America is just rubble now. It's a nuclear wasteland. We won't be
going back there. The half-life of uranium is more than many of our
Dwayne didn't look at Bob. He continued to look at the rocket. "One
day, we'll go home," he said. "I'm sure of it. I'm sure we will."
Bob noted that Dwayne's top lip had started to wobble. He smiled to
himself. It was the first time Dwayne had shown any insecurity.
"Come on Gromit," he said. "It's time for lift-off."
"What did you call me?" said Dwayne.
"There's nothing I like more than a nice piece of cheese.
Wensleydale's my favourite."
"There's nuclear weapons on board this thing," said Dwayne, "and I'm
not afraid to use them."
"In another one of the Wallace and Gromit films," said Bob, "there's a
penguin that disguises itself as a chicken."
"I'm serious," said Dwayne.
"So am I," said Bob, "and what is nice about those films is that the
good guys always win in the end. And in this case the good guys are not
superheroes they're just like you and me."
"I'm nothing like you," said Dwayne.
"There there Gromit," said Bob. "Don't be so uppity."
Bob pushed his glasses up his nose and stepped inside the rocket.
Dwayne stood shaking his head and then followed him inside.
"10," said Dwayne, "9, 8, 7, 6&;#8230;"
"Do you have to do that?" said Bob.
"What?" said Dwayne.
"All that counting down."
"In the absence of mission control I feel that it's necessary."
"Well, it's not," said Bob. "It's just me and you."
"We have to do things by the book," said Dwayne. "If we start skipping
bits now then we might make a habit of it and skip something important
later. That's what rules are for."
"I suppose," said Bob. He could see some logic in this. "Carry on
"!0," said Dwayne, "9, 8&;#8230;"
"Hang on," said Bob, "we've already done those numbers. We were on
"I thought we were doing this by the book?"
"We are, but the book doesn't say you have to count down twice."
"But it does say you have to count down from 10. If I started at 5
then that wouldn't be 10, would it?"
"But you've already done 10."
"9," said Dwayne, "8, 7, 6&;#8230;"
"1," said Bob. He screamed as loud as he could and reached forward and
pressed the ignition. There was a loud explosion beneath them and then
Bob felt like a very heavy chicken had landed on his chest at great
speed. For the next five minutes all was tremendous noise, extreme
pressure, and then it was followed by a sensation of tremendous
Bob opened his eyes. He hadn't even been aware that he had closed
them. He looked at Dwayne and then he looked out of the round window.
He saw blackness, stars, and there on the periphery the green and blue
ball of the place where he had spent all of his life. He noticed that
Dwayne was looking in the same direction.
"So that's what all the fuss has been about," said Bob.
"Yeah," said Dwayne. "Pretty, ain't it?"
"Yeah," said Bob. "It is pretty. I'd never realised. Very pretty
For the first time Bob and Dwayne smiled at the same time. And it
wasn't at each other's expense.
Bob noticed that Dwayne had nodded off. There was something he needed
to ask and it was urgent. He nudged Dwayne in the side.
"Uhh," said Dwayne, "what is it?"
"It's a bit embarrassing," said Bob.
"What is?" said Dwayne.
"Umm," said Bob.
"What?" said Dwayne.
"I need the toilet," said Bob.
"Jesus Christ man," said Dwayne. "Well waddya have to wake me up
Bob felt himself going red again. He shook his head. "I don't know
where it is."
Dwayne slapped one of his palms against his forward. "It's not funking
outside, is it?"
Bob laughed nervously and crossed his legs. He needed Dwayne's help on
this. "Guess not," he said. "If you could just point me in the general
"It's there man," said Dwayne. He nodded to a section of the rocket
wall that was slightly indented with a narrow plastic strip on hinges
poking out from it.
"Oh," said Bob. "I thought that was a fold-down ironing board."
"A what?" said Dwayne.
"I stayed in this hotel once in Tokyo. They had this ironing board
that looked just like that."
"Why would a rocket have an ironing board?" said Dwayne.
"To iron the spacesuits when they get creased," said Bob. "I didn't
bring my jimmy-jams and I for one am not sleeping in the nuddy."
"You're odd," said Dwayne. "I'm stuck in a funking rocket with someone
who thinks the crapper is an ironing board. We're gunna have to use
advanced nuclear ballistics and you can't tell your ass dumper from
your eye socket."
"There's no need to be like that," said Bob. "I'm doing my best. I
want to save the world as much as you do. Now if you wouldn't mind
looking the other way."
"What?" said Dwayne.
"I can't go with someone looking."
"What makes you think I want to look?"
"You are looking," said Bob. "You're looking right at me."
"Jesus H Christ Mother Mary of God," said Dwayne. "I'm turning my
back, ok? I'm not looking, ok? I'm looking out the window engaged in a
search and destroy mission for advanced alien technology. OK?"
"That's the spirit," said Bob and he walked over to the toilet.
Encouraged by his almost completely successful use of the toilet Bob
felt able to ask a question.
"Yep." Dwayne put a finger in his book and looked up.
"How are we actually gunna find this alien spaceship that is
threatening our nation?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well," said Bob casting his arms about in what he hoped looked like
an authoritative way, "space is pretty big, isn't it?" He made a show
of looking out of the window. "It seems to go on for miles."
"What did they teach you exactly in rocket school?" said Dwayne.
"Umm," said Bob. "To be honest I didn't go to rocket school."
"What?" said Dwayne.
"They were a bit short of astronauts one day so one day the President
asked me if I wouldn't mind lending a hand."
"Lending a hand?"
"He said that he'd overheard me talking about Minority Report in the
caf?. He said that I'd sounded impressive. He said that in these
straightened times I wouldn't actually be doing any space exploration.
All I would have to do would be to act as a spokesman. You know, talk
at press conferences. That kind of thing. He said that we didn't even
have any rockets."
"So you don't know anything about rockets?"
"Like I said," said Bob, "I have seen Minority Report. It's one of my
"Do they have rockets in Minority Report?" said Dwayne.
"Not exactly," said Bob. "But they do have jetpacks." Bob laughed
quietly to himself. "Now that I think about it the jetpacks are a bit
like those ones in that Woody Allen film, Sleeper. Have you seen
"No," said Dwayne. "I haven't."
Bob noticed that Dwayne had started to read from his book again.
"That's a shame," said Bob. "Sleeper's a great film. You should see it.
The President is dead and they try and clone him by just using his
Dwayne put his finger in his book again. He spoke sarcastically. "I'm
trying to save the world. I don't know that I've got the time."
For some reason Bob thought about Britney's words. He wondered if
anything would happen between Dwayne and him. There didn't seem to be
much happening at the moment. But then they did have all the time in
Or so he thought. Because just then there was a loud beep from one of
the instruments and a red light started to flash.
"Is this it?" said Bob.
"Too funking right," said Dwayne. "Man the missile. Man the
"Which is where?" said Bob looking around helpfully.
The alert turned out to be a false alarm.
"Probably just a meteorite burning up in the Earth's atmosphere," said
"Yes, probably," said Bob.
Dwayne looked at Bob sharply. "You haven't got a funking clue, have
"I managed to use the toilet without any further instruction," said
Bob. Bob spoke proudly but unfortunately, just at that moment, a piece
of used toilet paper which had been floating unnoticed in the zero
gravity stuck to the side of Dwayne's cheek.
"Sorry about that," said Bob.
One week passed. Then another. Then another.
"I think I've got the hang of the radar now," said Bob.
"What do you see?" said Dwayne. Dwayne was lying on his back looking
up at the ceiling.
"Nothing," said Bob. "Just a lot of space."
"You've got the hang of it then," said Dwayne. "Just a whole lot of
"Do you think we should turn this thing around and head on home?" said
"We can't," said Dwayne, "we've got to complete our mission."
Bob looked out the window and then down at the radar screen. "But
there's nothing there. Perhaps whatever it was has gone into
"There's no such thing as hyperspace," said Dwayne. "It's been
"Well," said Bob, "perhaps they've just gone home."
"If they have then we'll find them. We've been given a job, we have to
complete it. That's the American way."
"Right," said Bob. He paused for a moment. "You're pretty proud to be
American, aren't you Dwayne?"
"Too funking right," said Dwayne. "America's the greatest country in
the funking world. Land of the free. And all that."
"I guess so," said Bob.
"You guess so?"
"Well," said Bob, "everything's all gone a bit wrong, hasn't it? There
are only 57 of us left."
"Britney'll come round," said Dwayne. "You'll see."
Bob remembered his last meeting with Britney. He didn't think so. She
had seemed pretty headstrong. But Dwayne's enthusiasm was infectious.
It was nice to believe in something true. Even if that true thing might
be false. All in all Dwayne was growing on him.
"Would you like a cup of tea?" said Bob.
"You're supposed to be on watch," said Dwayne.
"It'll only take me a minute," said Bob.
"Oh go on then," said Dwayne. "A cup of tea would be nice. Thanks
"No problem dude," said Bob. He smiled.
"I'll admit it," said Dwayne. "I'm funking bored."
Dwayne was at the radar, Bob was on the space bunk. Bob sat up on one
elbow. "It's not like you to admit something like that."
"I am human," said Dwayne. "I'm not a funking robot, you know?"
"I know&;#8230;" said Bob. He let the words hang in space. In
space, after all, was where they were.
"What did you used to do back at HQ?" said Dwayne. "You were always
hanging around doing nothing. You were famous for it with the other
"Was I?" said Bob proudly. He didn't think that he had ever been
famous for anything.
"Yes," said Dwayne. "We couldn't think how a loser like you could
always appear so happy."
"Well," said Bob, ignoring Dwayne's last rather barbed comment, "I did
like the odd DVD. Then there were always people down the caf?.
"Yep," said Dwayne.
"It's a bit embarrassing."
"I can't say. Like I said, it's embarrassing."
"Embarrassing?" said Dwayne. "I've seen on the space can more times
then I can mention."
"I thought you weren't looking," said Bob.
"I wasn't looking," said Dwayne. "I just saw. We're not in the Grand
Canyon, you know? This rocket is kinda small."
"I guess so," said Bob.
"So tell me," said Dwayne.
"Well," said Bob, "I used to pretend I was Jane Fonda."
"Ted Turner's ex?" said Dwayne. "What did you do, put the tv on and
imagine all the channels were owned by a close relative?"
"Not exactly," said Bob. "It was more of a Barbarella thing."
"Is that another one of your funking movies?"
"Look," said Bob, "it's easier if I show you."
Bob slipped the CD into the CD player and then launched himself into
the centre of the rocket. He let himself spin around while his moon
boots and space suit slipped off. He felt weightless and
After, Dwayne left his position at the radar. "That looks kinda neat,"
he said. "Can I have a go?"
"Go for it," said Bob.
Dwayne went for it. He made a pretty good Jane Fonda. For the rest of
the day they took it in turns. First Bob was Jane and then Dwayne.
First Bob and then Dwayne. The clothes slipping off of them.
It turned out that Britney was right about what happens when men live
together in close company for long periods of time. Virgins are usually
spot on in the analysis of sex. They spend so much time not doing it
that it gives them an preternaturally acute perception.
However, after it happened Dwayne was pretty pissed.
"I want you out of my sight man," he said.
Bob looked around the rocket. They only had thirty-six square feet
"Where exactly did you want me to go?"
"I don't care man, just away. I never want to see your fag face
Bob turned his back on Dwayne and moved over to the far wall. He had
been through this kind of thing before. He was feeling hurt. He thought
he and Dwayne had had something special. It wasn't every day that you
spend two months in a rocket with someone.
"We can partition off the space between us," he shouted from his side
of the rocket. "We won't have see each other again. They did something
similar on an episode of Steptoe and Son. It'll work."
"This Steptoe and Son," shouted back Dwayne, "were they fags
"They were father and son," said Bob.
"Father and son," said Dwayne. "It gets worse."
"It was a British comedy from the 70s," said Bob.
"It's not American," said Dwayne. He put his head in his hands. "It's
just not American."
Bob wasn't sure what Dwayne was referring to, Steptoe and Son or what
they had just done and he never got the chance to ask because right
then the red light on the radar started to flash. This time it wasn't a
A huge black monolith appeared outside the left-hand window.
"Funking man the missile," screamed Dwayne.
By this time Bob knew how to man the missile. You had to press the
green button next to the red one. He scooted over to it and was on the
point of pressing it when he had second thoughts. Now that it had come
to the crunch he wasn't sure if he wanted to destroy something he
didn't know anything about.
"They might be harmless," said Bob not only to himself but also in the
general direction of Dwayne.
Dwayne was bouncing up and down like a minor despot. "Just punch the
"When Wallace and Gromit land on the moon they encounter an old oven
that tries to hit them with a baseball bat."
"What?" said Dwayne.
"It doesn't because just as the bat comes down it's metre runs down
and it freezes."
"I'll hit you with a baseball bat in a second," said Dwayne.
"I'm just trying to rationalise it," said Bob.
"This is no time to rationalise," said Dwayne. "You need to follow
orders. That's all. That's what this whole thing has been about. The
President gives us some orders and we follow them. It's the American
"It doesn't sound very democratic," said Bob.
"It's perfectly democratic," said Dwayne. "We've chosen the President
to represent our wishes. By doing what he says on a subconscious level
we are doing what we ourselves want to do."
Once again Bob thought that Dwayne had a point. Like wanting to
believe in something true, ceding responsibility to a higher order was
a comfort to what philosophers called the human condition.
"Look," said Dwayne, "what happened between us wasn't so bad. I'm
sorry I blew my gasket. If you really want, we can do it again.
Actually, I want to."
That, for Bob, swung the decision. He pressed green button.
The black monolith rotated silently just outside the round
"I'm not very impressed with this advanced nuclear weaponry," said
"It didn't work," said Dwayne. "We'll have to launch it
"Right," said Bob. "A manual launch it is."
"Go on then," said Dwayne.
"I'm not sure exactly how to do it," said Bob. "Is it like putting a
crank in the front of a car and turning it swiftly."
Dwayne shook his head. "A manual launch is achieved by pushing the red
button and then the green. In that order."
"I can do that," said Bob. He did it. He pressed the red button and
then the green. If there was a nuclear explosion it was a small one. If
the black monolith was destroyed it did it in a way of still appearing
to be there.
"Shit," said Dwayne. "We'll have to go to Plan B."
"Plan B?" said Bob. It didn't sound good.
Bob and Dwayne had left the rocket and were in open space. They each
had a jetpack on their back and they were heading towards the monolith.
Now that advanced nuclear technology was out of the way Bob was
beginning to enjoy himself.
"I'll race you to it," said Bob into his intercom.
"This is a serious mission," said Dwayne. "There's not going to be any
"Scared you'll lose more like," said Bob.
"It's not a competition," said Dwayne. "If this thing is to work then
we have to work together."
"Yeah yeah," said Bob. "On three."
"I'm not playing," said Dwayne.
"Three," said Bob and he was off.
"I thought you weren't racing," said Bob.
"I wasn't," said Dwayne.
"You were going awful fast for someone who wasn't racing."
"I do things fast," said Dwayne.
"Not everything," said Bob and he grinned.
"I thought we weren't going to mention that," said Dwayne.
"That's not what we said," said Bob.
Dwayne shook his head. "You have to understand this is all kind of new
"I'm standing on the side of a black monolith," said Bob. "This whole
Plan B thing is new to me but I'm getting on with it."
Dwayne didn't have any answer to that. He just looked at Bob. Over
Bob's shoulder he could see their rocket, stationary now and past that
a whole lot of space.
"Dwayne," said Bob, "can I tell you something?"
Dwayne shrugged. "I guess so man."
"Umm," said Bob.
"Well," said Dwayne, "get on with it. We've got a job to do."
"It's just that&;#8230;"
"Well," said Bob, "you have a nice ass."
"Do I?" said Dwayne. The face beneath the plastic visor looked
"Yes," said Bob, "you do."
Dwayne twisted his head around in his helmet and tried to look down at
his ass. The spacesuit was bulky and he couldn't make out much of any
kind of shape.
"I'll have to take your word for it," he said.
"Good," said Bob. "I wanted to tell you just in case something
happens, you know?"
"Yes," said Dwayne. "I know."
"For once in my life," said Bob, "I wanted to be up front about my
"Ok, man," said Dwayne. "Don't push it."
"Sorry," said Bob.
Beneath his visor Dwayne winked in Bob's direction. "Now sexy bum, I
guess we should try and find a door to this thing."
"What did you call me?" said Bob.
"You heard," said Dwayne.
"Bum?" said Bob. "That's an English word. I'm beginning to worry about
you Dwayne." But Bob didn't mean it. In fact he was smiling.
"Can we stop a minute?" said Bob.
"What?" said Dwayne.
"To be frank," said Bob. "I'm puffed."
"I thought you'd pleased to get out and about," said Dwayne. "We've
been cooped up in that rocket for I don't know how many weeks."
Bob looked over to where the rocket was silently rotating. It didn't
look like much compared to the huge monolith they were on but Bob had
come to regard it as home. He didn't like Dwayne referring to it as
'that rocket'. It was the place where they had got to know one another.
For Bob, it had been the journey that was important not the
destination. Ever since they had been on this monolith Dwayne had
hardly paid him any attention at all. He decided to go on the
"Just what exactly is this Plan B?" he said.
"That's classified," said Dwayne. "Information will only given out on
a need to know basis."
"I need to know," said Bob.
"You don't," said Dwayne.
"I do," said Bob. "What happens if something were to happen to you?
How would the plan be carried out?"
"There's always a 'what if' to everything," said Dwayne. "That's a
"There's no winning with you is there?" said Bob.
"Look Bob," said Dwayne, "I'd tell you if I could but I can't. I'm
sorry. It's classified."
Bob could see that Dwayne meant it. After all their time together
Dwayne cared more about stupid rules than he did for him. Bob suddenly
realised that that was the way it would always be. America would always
come between them.
"Right," said Bob, "I'm going back to the rocket."
"What?" said Dwayne.
"You can stuff your stupid Plan B up your cute ass."
"You can't go," said Dwayne. "It would be a dereliction of
"I don't care," said Bob. He turned his back on Dwayne and gave a
little tweak to his jetpack's thrusters. His feet lifted six inches off
the side of monolith.
"Wait!" shouted Dwayne. He shouted very loudly and as he was shouting
into the intercom the sound was loud in Bob's own headset.
"Blimey," said Bob.
"Don't go," said Dwayne. "The funking truth is that there is no
funking Plan B. The funking truth is that I don't know what to do.
Don't funking leave me."
Bob's feet touched silently down on the side of the monolith. He
turned back towards Dwayne.
"Well," he said, "that's all you had to say. Why didn't you say it in
the first place?"
But Dwayne didn't answer. As Bob's feet had touched down on the side
of the monolith they must have pressed on a hidden button there because
opening up in front of them was a door.
"After you," said Bob. "You're about to make a small step for man but a
big step for mankind."
"This is no time to make a funking joke," said Dwayne.
"Joking helps alleviate stress," said Bob. "I was just trying to
lighten the tone."
"I thought that was jerking off," said Dwayne. "I thought jerking off
helped to alleviate stress."
"Dwayne," said Bob. He was shocked. It wasn't like Dwayne to mention
something like jerking off. Especially not mid mission. Bob realised
that there was still a lot he had to learn about Dwayne. And about love
"I was funking joking, man," said Dwayne. "Jesus H Christ Mother Mary
Daughter of God you can give it but you don't know how to take
Bob laughed. He decided that he liked it when Dwayne made jokes. He
slapped him on the back. That was probably a mistake in zero gravity.
Dwayne would never forget that his first encounter with advanced alien
technology was ass over tit.
"I don't funking believe it," said Dwayne. "Did I hit my head?"
"You might have done," said Bob, "but I didn't hit mine and I guess
that I'm seeing exactly the same thing as you."
"This is freaking me out man," said Dwayne.
"I'm pretty freaked out myself," said Bob.
Bob and Dwayne were standing on a brightly lit mezzanine level. Below
them spread out in neat angular lines were the shops and boutiques of
an American shopping mall. Crowds of people moved in and out of the
shops like schools of fish carrying bulging shopping bags. It wasn't
what they had expected to see. Not at all.
"What shall we do?" said Dwayne.
"Shop til we drop?" said Bob.
Bob was surprised that Dwayne was into the idea. He wanted first to go
to The Gap.
"I've been wearing these clothes for two months," said Dwayne.
"They're pretty funking."
Bob agreed that funking was just about the right word. So The Gap it
was. Bob had never really been a Gap man but Dwayne's enthusiasm was
infectious. They tried on Chinos, loafers, Gap Ts, and a couple of fine
"Look at this," said Dwayne, holding up a blue ribbed top, "made in
"It's probably the new Korea," said Bob.
"Probably," said Dwayne. Then he had an idea. "How are we going to pay
for all this stuff?"
"Easy," said Bob.
"Easy how?" said Dwayne.
"Haven't you noticed," said Bob, "no price tickets, no check-outs.
It's take what you want. There's enough for everyone."
"Neat," said Dwayne. "We must be in heaven. Can we go to the Virgin
"No problem," said Bob. "After you."
In the Virgin Megastore they picked up the Rolling Stones new album,
recorded live on their tour of the Milky Way. Then they grabbed a copy
of Rush Hour 8. Jackie Chan does Kung Fu on Mars. Finally Bob looked
for and found a collection of Britney's Greatest Hits.
"Isn't she a proto-feminist now?" said Dwayne.
Bob shrugged. "Well yeah, but you know, she'll like it, her album
available in space. She'll think it's cool."
"Cool?" said Dwayne. His face took on some of the trouble that it had
been carrying for the past few months. "The fate of America lies in her
womb. If she won't have kids then America is dead."
Bob lifted up his hands to indicate all that was around them. "These
shops," he said, "they're all American. America seems to be doing
pretty well all of a sudden."
"I hadn't thought of that," said Dwayne. "I don't understand what's
"Come on," said Bob, "let's go to Starbucks, have a coffee and decide
what to do next."
"OK," said Dwayne. "Good idea. We might need that Plan B after
It was as they were walking past Tie Rack that Dwayne noticed Osama Bin
Laden choosing a tie. Dwayne stopped dead. He tapped Bob on the
shoulder and then pointed silently into the shop.
"Major terrorist to the left," he mouthed.
Bob looked at Osama and then back at Dwayne. "So he wasn't in those
caves after all. It always did seem a waste, bombing all that
"I don't like this," said Dwayne. "I don't like this one little
"Me neither," said Bob.
"Keep your eyes peeled," said Dwayne. "We're going to get to the
bottom of this."
They did. For over an hour Bob and Dwayne walked around with their
eyes well and truly peeled. They saw Pol Pot in Dunkin' Donuts, Mao
Zedong in Barnes and Noble, Margaret Thatcher in The Body Shop and then
finally to top it off Saddam Hussein in Spud U Like.
"I don't believe this," said Dwayne.
"Me neither," said Bob. "I thought Spud U Like went under years
"Not now Bob," said Dwayne. "What are we going to funking do?"
Bob remembered Dwayne's earlier advice about ceding authority to a
higher order. In a bad situation it was the best idea he could come up
"I think we should head back to Earth and tell the President," he
"No need," said Dwayne.
"What do you mean?" said Bob.
"Look," said Dwayne.
Bob looked. Right there, coming out of McDonalds was the President of
the United States of America arm in arm with Indira Ghandi.
"Sir," said Dwayne.
For once the President seemed at a loss for words.
"Who are these people?" said Indira icily, looking at Bob and Dwayne
as if they were the unclean. Which, in truth, they were. "Do they have
"Clearance?" said Dwayne. "We were sent to destroy this monolith. We
have a rocket outside. We have advanced nuclear technology and we're
not afraid to use it."
"George?" said Indira turning to the President and raising her
"Now, now," said the President, "don't worry." He gave Indira's arm a
gentle pat. "The rocket doesn't have any weapons on board. Not active
ones at any rate. I was just doing what needed to be done. Send a few
rockets up. Neutralise the terrorist threat. You know, play people off
of one another."
"Oh yes," said Indira. "I see. How clever of you George. You always
were good at that sort of thing."
"Sir?" said Dwayne. He was looking confused. He was confused. "I don't
understand. I don't understand what's going on."
"The peace that passeth understanding," said the President. "It's
about the peace that passeth understanding," and then he wouldn't say
any more on the matter. He only called security and had Bob and Dwayne
ejected from the monolith.
"Well. That looks like it's that," said Bob.
They were back in the rocket.
"Is that all you can say?" said Dwayne.
"Come on," said Bob, "let's turn this thing around and head
"Home?" said Dwayne. "I ain't got no home. I believed in
"There there Gromit," said Bob. "Don't take on so."
"Don't start with that funking Gromit nonsense again," said Dwayne.
"So am I," said Bob. "Come here."
"I don't want to," said Dwayne.
"Just come here," said Bob and there must have been something in his
voice because Dwayne pushed himself up off his space bunk and joined
Bob at the window. Bob risked an arm around Dwayne's shoulder and was
pleased to find that it wasn't rejected.
"Look," said Bob, "what do you see?"
"Space," said Dwayne. "A whole lot of space."
"No," said Bob. "There. Right there."
"The Earth?" said Dwayne.
"That's right," said Bob. "If you want to believe in something then
why don't you believe in that. In the birds and the trees. In the water
and the sky and the goats and the sheep."
"You've funking lost it man," said Dwayne.
"No, I haven't," said Bob. "Come on try."
"But all that fighting," said Dwayne. "It seems such a waste. And you
going all hippy on me isn't helping."
"Hippies are American," said Bob.
"Now you're just twisting things," said Dwayne.
"Do you want to know a secret?" said Bob.
"What?" said Dwayne.
"Me and Britney are friends."
"Really?" said Dwayne.
"Yes, really," said Bob.
"You never told me that," said Dwayne.
"You don't know everything."
"I guess not."
"I'll introduce you if you want," said Bob.
"That would be nice."
"Me and Britney have often talked about getting out."
"Have you?" said Dwayne. "Getting out? Where would you go?"
"Not sure," said Bob. "Potters Bar, I think. We've always fancied
"Potters Bar," said Dwayne. He said it slowly as if he was thinking
"You can come with us if you want," said Bob. "We'd be quite a hit
there with our rocket."
"Do you think?" said Dwayne.
"I know," said Bob.
"You might be funking right," said Dwayne.
"You ready to go home then?" said Bob.
Dwayne nodded his head. He looked towards the Earth. The little round
green and blue ball that from a distance looked like one of his
mother's dangling earrings. Dwayne had truly loved his mother.
"The birds and the bees," he said, "the goats and the sheep. But I
warn you I'm not joining a commune or growing my hair long."
"That's fine," said Bob. "I wouldn't like you with long hair. You
start up the engines and I'll put the kettle on."